Militarism in the U.S.

“War is a racket;” an infamous quote from U.S.M.C. Major General Smedley Butler, in 1933, on the true nature of most wars. According to Butler a racket was best described as “something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many.” (http://www.fas.org/man/smedley.htm) When considering, $699 billion or 65% of total net discretionary spending found within the total 2007 U.S. budget was budgeted for the military (http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/rewrite/budget/fy2008/defense.html) or the often overlooked fact that the U.S. military is the country‘s largest employer “leaving Wal-Mart, the Post Office, and General Motors in the dust,” employing 3 million Americans (Lutz, 47), the Major General’s definition for “war” seems to gain even more credence.

 

The shaping of perception of the military and war starts at a young age in the U.S. I remember as an adolescent watching Top Gun and dreaming that some day I would be like Maverick or Iceman and join the Air Force, get the cool jacket, fly a billion dollar piece of equipment and shoot down some bad guys. During this same time in my childhood, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was my favorite cartoon to watch. The name itself portrays the “average Joe” as a real hero; heroes fighting against the evil forces of COBRA whose sole objective was nothing less than world domination. Several of the “bad guys” in this show had Russian accents thus conceptualizing and promulgating the “cold war” fear into the hearts and minds of American children just like me. So, what was so special about these real American Heroes? They were soldiers of course. This reinforces the conceptual framework Lutz discussed when she stated that being masculine was rooted in being militaristic. In addition to “passive” media perception creation and reinforcement as I deem movies and television shows as (even though I believe at times they are anything but passively created and controlled), there is PR spin. In observing “career day” at a local junior high for the past two years I have noticed “predatory” recruiting by the U.S. armed forces. In particular, the last “career day” the U.S. Army sent a teenage soldier who had just completed boot camp and had not yet seen combat to attempt to recruit children ranging from 11 to 13 years of age. What I found odd was how “natural” and seemingly ordinary the act of recruiting children(many yet to enter puberty) by the U.S. military was perceived by professionally credentialed teachers and administrators. This truly shows a disconnect between “true” reality (the reality of others looking in) in contrast to what has been socially fabricated and taught via various instruments to the American people.

Catherine Lutz, author of the essay “Warmaking as the American Way of Life,” asserts very similar conclusions to the Major General. Lutz discussed the size of the U.S. military and its transparent uses as well as “black bag” uses. Lutz also discussed the stark contrast between American perception and reality when analyzing the U.S. military in relation to the rest of the world. I found Lutz’s critiques on the different beliefs found rooted in the American culture about war, being a soldier, and the U.S. military in general, extremely enriching. I particularly enjoyed her critique on how the military shapes perceptions of Americans, who have never been in the military, to perceive it a particular way. Lutz believes the “normalization of American militarization has been accomplished through the science of public relations” effectively “winning hearts and minds through advertising and PR spin” thus perpetuating what I call “clinically-designed perceptions” (Lutz, 58). Perceptions like: the U.S. military is only used for “good” or if you do not “support the troops” you are “against us” as G.W. once so eloquently stated.

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~ by jrparrott on April 5, 2010.

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